Many people consider that traditional marketing techniques are all but dead. Pre-recording television shows and then skipping ads in common, meaning few people see them anymore. Billboards are dead, since people in a car are either watching the road or reading their phones. For a small fee ads on on-line media can be avoided. So what is a marketer to do to get their message out?
A look around will show us, however, that people are still looking and reading, and they are mostly focused on getting information or being entertained. From reviews helping them decide what to buy or where to eat, to technical guidance on how to do something, what people are still doing is looking at material that guides their decisions, teaches them about the society they live in, or just gives them useful information. That material – broadly called content – is the one window that is still open for marketers. This chapter is about how to use content to reach out and increase your customer base and ultimately your sales and the success of your business. As you can see, you should be taking this enormous and fast-growing area of marketing very seriously. This chapter will show you how.
What is Content Marketing?
Put simply, content marketing is any form of marketing that involves creating or sharing content in order to gain new customers. To be ‘content’ in the sense we mean here, the material must be both relevant to the needs of the reader, and valuable to them, meaning that they do not already know it, and cannot find it in many other different places. There are many kinds of content. The most common kinds are news reports, info-graphics, videos, pictures, technical literature, case studies, ‘How-To’ guides, eBooks, question and answer articles, and many others means of communication.
Lots of simple marketing content consists of material designed to sell a product – but the kind of content we are talking about here is not that. Here, ‘content’ is material that focuses on communicating with clients and prospective clients in ways that are immediately helpful to them, but not to you.
After looking at this kind of content, they may buy your product, but they may not – at least not right away. If you focus on content that seeks an immediate sale, you will fail at marketing with content. Instead, you will be stuck in the old world of advertisements screaming, “Buy me now!” That is the kind of dvertising that modern, sophisticated buyers find not only uninteresting, but downright off-putting.
To see how content marketing differs from traditional marketing, let’s look at a case study of one large company’s foray into content marketing – Marriot International, the hotel chain. Now you will immediately realize that Marriot have many resources, but the lessons learned are the same for a small company too.
Marriott International and Travel Content – A Case Study
The Marriott chain began in 1927, when John Willard Marriott and his wife Alice set up a Root Beer stand during the heat of summer in Washington, D.C. From that tiny beginning, it has become an international corporation that operates 15 hotel brands, of over 4,000 hotels, ranging from the luxury of The Ritz-Carleton hotels, through the more moderate Marriott and Sheraton range to the boutique-style AC Hotels and Aloft Hotels chains. It enjoys annual revenues of almost $13 billion.
In 2014 Marriott opened a new division, called Content Studio, run by two ex-Disney executives. The purpose of the division is to create quality content that will enhance the brand without engaging in a traditional hard sell. Very quickly, Marriott created a TV show, The Navigator Live, and a 15-minute hit short film, Two Bellmen. This was quickly followed by a second short film, French Kiss, and both of these films were launched on YouTube.
French Kiss is a fantasy romance set in Paris, with discrete Marriott product placement. The company says that the film generated $500,000 in revenue for the Paris hotel used in the film. Two Bellmen – soon to be followed by Two Bellmen Two and Two Bellmen Three, featured a hotel in Dubai. Comments on YouTube included promises to stay at nothing other than Marriott hotels in future, showing that even this ‘soft’ content translated into company revenue and loyalty.
Content Studio also publishes a digital magazine called Traveler, which goes well beyond the ‘Airline Magazine’ format, and features articles by renowned world travelers. With a searchable database of information on cities and countries around the world, the magazine aims to become a ‘go to’ for travel information by all kinds of travelers.
Why is Content Marketing Important?
Most marketers today have come to realize that ‘content is king’ and with larger companies quickly moving into quality content (as well as social media), if your company is not doing the same, you will be left behind. Consumers today have grown up in a world that constantly sends them advertising messages. They are tired of being sold at. So traditional hard marketing is dying, if not dead already. This fact is the number one reason why content marketing is important. Most companies, especially the largest ones, recognize that content marketing is the number one trend in marketing, and they are responding by moving rapidly into this way of reaching out to their customers. You must do the same.
The goal of content marketing is to to connect with current and prospective clients without resorting to traditional and dated methods of direct advertising. The key is to offer useful, informative content that will create strong brand loyalty. Never forget that the public wants to be informed. As a result, they remember people or companies who help them in their quest for knowledge, and someone who watches or uses your content, will be more likely to come to you to do business. The proper use of content marketing also brings many additional benefits. It helps you to rank higher in search engines, which in turn increases company branding. In addition, it increases social media followings, and help your company seem more trustworthy.
The Importance of Good Content
Consider how content can increase the levels of customer engagement – after all, over half of the time spent online, and almost a quarter of social media messages, are about content. With that much online activity being spent, if you like, NOT looking at products, then clearly to market your products and services effectively, you need to be working with content as much as, or more, than with direct marketing.
Look at how content increases traffic to your site – on average by 55% more visitors. Since traffic is a vital number to increase, having content as well as products on your site is essential
Consider too how Google feels about content. Remember that being high up on a search page is the number one way to increase traffic. In recent years, in an attempt to reduce the amount of low-quality material on the internet, Google has developed systems that in effect reward good content and punish bad content. If your content has the same key words in every sentence – called ‘keyword stuffing’, you will fall down the page. On the other hand, if you have fresh, new material, or even if you simply update your existing material, you will rise up the ranks, because the age of a page is an important part of the search algorithms.
Generating Leads With Content Marketing
Generating leads with content marketing revolves almost exclusively around your calls to action. It is extremely importance to offer high quality content, because if no one reads your content all the way through, they will never know what your call to action wanted them to do.
Calls to action are short paragraphs of one to four sentences that you should be including in every single one of your blog posts and website articles, not to mention the vast majority of your social media posts. They let your audience know what you want from them. Typically, these actions in some way will tie into what your content was about.
To utilize calls to action properly you need to be writing them the correct way. They should be simple, clear, and go straight to the point. That means you should only be asking your audience to do one thing per call to action. Don’t ask them to do multiple things because they can get confused as to which thing you really want them to do. Focus on one thing at a time. If you have multiple calls to action you wish to use, wait for the next blog post or article to use them.
You also need to be clear, and straight to the point. Don’t be obscure for the sake of being polite. In fact you are not being polite, you are only being long winded. Instead of saying, “If you would like to, you can read more about this topic by clicking the following link,” you should say, “Read more about this topic here.” The word ‘here’ then links to where you want your audience to go. Use as few words as possible for the best results.
If you want them to do their job, calls to action must be written in the proper way, if they are going to work. If your calls to action are simple, clear, and straight to the point, they will help to generate numerous leads for your business. If they are not, they are not going to work to their fullest potential.
7 Steps to Building an Effective Content Marketing Strategy
Step One: Define Your Goals
You cannot begin to formulate a content marketing strategy without first determining what your wished-for outcome is. Your goals will become the basis of your entire plan, dictating everything from the type of content you want to provide, to the way you present it. Your goals will determine the keywords you use and the structure of your content too.
Here are some ideas of the kind of goals you could set yourself:
- Create more engagement between your customers and your company
- Increase likes and/or follows on social media networks
- Prompt more email subscription sign-ups
- Increase website and blog views
- Strengthen your company’s branding
Remember that your goals may or may not include those listed above. Every company is unique. As such, each company will have a different set of goals (not limited to those listed above) for their content marketing campaign.
Another way to generate your goals and prepare to build your strategy is to ask yourself the following questions:
- Who are you, what is your story and what is your purpose? This means knowing your branding goals.
- Who you are reaching out to and who do you serve? What is the customer persona of your market?
- With regard to content, what it is that you want to tell your audience? Perhaps they need to know about cooking healthily, but whatever it is, discover what you have to give.
- Ask yourself about your clients’ needs, and think what you need to do to be useful and relevant to them. If you sell home décor, will they appreciate an article on colors for a bedroom? Remember that their needs must take priority over your interests.
- Once you give content to your audience, what do you expect them to do with it? Are ‘likes’ going to be enough? If not, what else do you expect? If you sell trees, after they read your post about planting a shade tree, can they link directly to buy one?
- You know what you want to say, but how are you going to reach your audience with that content? Perhaps through social media, but is a free e-book or a YouTube video better?
- How can you make it easy for them to do what you expect? For example, if you want them to book a trip to a destination you described, how can they do that, and how easy is it to do?
Step Two: Decide How to Keep Track
Now you must decide how you will keep track of your campaign’s success. Google Analytics is a great tool for keeping track of all your marketing campaigns, but there are also other ways to keep track that are available to you. You can track engagement, page views, individual website analytics, and many other things individually. The best way to keep track is to use the most effective method, and the one you preferred using. Make sure you track everything or you will not be seeing the whole picture.
Step Three: Research Your Audience
You know what you want to accomplish, and how you are going to keep track of how close you are to meeting those goals. Now you need to do some research. Find out who your target audience is. You may have already done this when you created your company brand. If you have not, a bit of common sense and some research should be able to determine this for you. The following are things to keep in mind:
- How old is your target audience? For example, it may be everyone over eighteen, or it may be teenagers between thirteen and eighteen. Some products are obvious. Obviously toys are marketed for children (although adults may be making some of the choices), and women’s clothing is for grown women. If you are not sure about the age of your target audience, you can perform a few online searches. See if anyone has already researched your product or business niche. Look and see who is commenting or reviewing these items. When you put all of your research together you will see the answer.
- Are you targeting both genders equally, or focusing on just one? This will usually be obvious, although remember that sometimes a woman is buying a shirt for a man. Each gender has different values and there are well-documented approaches you can use, so this is a basic but still important question to ask. Targeting across genders can be worthwhile too – many men use skin-care products if they are not overtly feminine.
- What income range are you targeting? Think about the income needed to buy the services or products you are offering. Are they easily affordable for all, or limited to the wealthy? We frequently use the term “high-end” to refer to things that are expensive and beyond the range of people making less than fifty to sixty thousand dollars a year. It also depends on the type of items you sell. It is also important to be sure all your demographics match up, and match your products too. High-end products need to be high quality and often of certain status brands to sell well, even to the wealthy.
- Is there anything special about your target audience? Ask yourself whether you are targeting a specific type of person. Anything ethnic, cultural, or aimed at a narrow, specific audience would fall into this category.
Step Four: Choose your Keywords
Keywords are a vital tool for boosting your site up the results page of a search on a search engine. It works like this. Someone is interested in something that you offer, but of course they don’t know that you exist. So they go to Google or another search engine and put in some words they think will help them find what they are looking for. For them to find you, your website needs to show in the first page at least of the search results. Research shows that 33% of people go to the first link shown on their search results page. The first five results get 75% of the traffic, so if you can’t make number one, you at least want to fall in the first five. To get into that group, your content needs to be using the right words in the right areas.
So how do you know which words to use for your products?
The first place to start is by picturing your target audience and trying to imagine what words they would use when searching for something you offer. Different demographic groups are going to use different language, and of course if you want to sell internationally different words are used in American or British English, as well as variations in countries like Canada, Australia and South Africa. Usually you will be able to come up with a list of words that you think will work.
Now you need to see what words your competition is using, and to do that there are keyword research tools. The following ones offer similar services, and will give you keywords currently being used in your industry niche, popular search terms, and other useful information that will let you hone your list into a shorter, more powerful one.
You may want to use two or three of these services to get a balanced picture. Compare the keywords you receive from each tool, and keep the ones mentioned on more than one. You can refine your list further by running your words through a search engine and seeing what turns up. Pay attention to words that people used that offered no results – these could be useful ways to get to that all-important first place.
In addition to these basic keywords, come up with a few of your own. These additional keywords, used less often but still vitally important, relate to your company as an individual entity. They could be the names of best-selling products, or services you perform exceptionally well.
Step Five: Decide On the Type of Content
There are many types of useful and effective content. A good campaign will incorporate multiple forms, but do not be tempted to stretch yourself too thin. Choose the types of content with care.
Good content draws the consumer in – as long as it is good. In written material, use plenty of good images, which increase viewing, and Infographics are also popular with visitors to websites. Never underestimate the intelligence of your audience and the value of real, original, informative content that goes beyond re-hashing material already on the web.
Here are a few examples of widely used types of content you could incorporate into your campaign:
- Videos – make them relevant and informative. ‘How-To’ material is always popular, but aim for good production standards.
- Pictures and Images – as well as incorporating them into written content, stand-alone images with a brief description are always popular.
- EBooks – free eBooks giving in-depth material on your niche are one of the hottest trends right now. If they are very good they can even be sold, generating some direct revenue.
- News – genuine news items that relate to your niche are popular, and they are a good way to draw ‘news-hounds’ onto your site.
- White Papers – if you are in a technical field, then detailed studies put together as fully referenced material will appeal to serious users.
- Case Studies – background on how important businesses succeeded – or failed – make excellent content that attracts readers deeply interested in your niche. This is especially useful if you sell business to business.
- Infographics – there are free tools that make it easy for you to create exciting presentations a wide variety of material, from statistical data to linked ideas.
- Question and Answer articles – there are some great ways of making the old ‘Q&A’ section of a website into something much more appealing – while still getting the information across. An interview with yourself is one you could use.
- Brand Stories – once you have a clear brand, telling the story of where you came from is interesting to many customers.
- Short snippets of information (social media posts) – pieces with factoids, or informative sentences, make great posts for Twitter and other social media.
There is a proper approach to choosing the type of material – not just what you like best or is the easier to produce. Here are some guidelines to making these important choices.
- Which social media sites do you use, and what types of content do they support? If you use YouTube, obviously you will use videos. If you use Pinterest or Instagram, you will want to include pictures in your campaign. If you use Twitter, short snippets of information are the way to go.
- Which types of content best suit your business niche? If you are offering a service to professionals, such as business-to-business (B2B) marketing, info-graphics do well. EBooks, as well as Q&A articles, also do very well. For business-to-consumer marketing (B2C), brand stories and visual material like videos and picture spreads do very well.
- What content does your team do best? Quality is very important, so start by doing what you do best. This will allow you to put out the highest quality content at the quickest rate. Then your team can train for other forms, like making videos, but remember it takes time for anyone to learn something new and become good at it. Learning new skills should be an important part of your team building process.
Step Six: Create Your Content
It is finally time to take action. You have done your research and decided your course of action. Now you need to create your content. Here are some tips on various types of content to help you get started.
- Keep your videos short. Thirty seconds to three minutes does best. The exception is ‘How-To’ videos, which can be longer. If the content is rich and thorough, and so needs more than three minutes, go ahead and do it. Another possibility is to cut the material into two or more parts.
- Ensure all images used fit properly on the screen.
- Use appropriate music, if applicable. The music should enhance the video, not take away from it. It should also be relatively bland and middle-of-the-road, but not muzak. Not everyone shares your taste, but don’t take that personally.
- If you use text in your video, make sure it is easy to read. Edit the video so there is enough time for the average viewer to read the text comfortably.
- Always use high quality images.
- Avoid using thumbnails, as no one can see them properly.
- All text in pictures should be easy to read.
- Avoid bright and neon colors as many people find it hard to look at and can even get eyestrain and headaches from it.
- Check copyright restrictions on images and stock photos. Never pull images off the internet without finding out if you have permission to use them. There is a lot of open-source material available.
- Keep your paragraphs short, creating easier to read bites of information. Paragraphs should be between three and six sentences for the best reading experience.
- Always include a table of contents in the front of your eBook. Use hyperlinks so readers can find information even quicker.
- A catchy and informative title is very important – a good title draws customers to your eBook and it is the first thing they see, so take some time getting it right.
- An attractive and well-designed cover is just as important as the contents. Like the title, a cover will attract people to your book, and contribute to their decision to download or purchase it. People really do judge books by their covers, no matter what anyone else may tell you.
- Always use a professional editor and proofreader. Typos and small errors immediately destroy your credibility and status as an expert, even if your content is top-rate.
- Articles, ‘How-To’ pieces, Q&A, blogs and other written content should be produced with the same care as your eBooks.
- Break up the writing into easily digestible bites of information. Keep paragraphs in shorter pieces to less than four sentences to optimize the reading experience.
- Carefully edit even the smallest piece and eliminate typos and other errors.
- Keep your content above 300 words, as search engines favor longer articles.
- Always include at least one image in your content. This makes it more visually appealing, and increases viewing by 70%.
The web is full of second-rate material. What makes it second-rate is that much of it is simply the same ideas and information exchanged back and forth within the same niche. Outdated statistics are repeatedly quoted. In-depth research, even for a short article, and fact checking from several reliable sources, is very important if your content is to stand out and make the impact you want. Use the most up to date information you can find and go back and update a piece if you find that something has changed. People see poor quality immediately and your business will suffer for it.
Brainstorming to look for original ideas is always a great way to kick-start your research. Some useful strategies to stimulate originality and novelty include:
- See what your competitors are saying and challenge it. There are usually two (or more) sides to everything.
- See what topics get the most shares and expand on them in new material.
- Look for gaps in topic areas – this includes looking at what people are searching for and not finding answers to. If your content fills a gap where there is demand, it will be widely read.
- Look at the changes and evolution of content over time. Ask yourself why it has changed and try to predict where it is going to be popular next.
- Be original. Be original. Be original.
Step Seven: Distribute Your Content
Now that you have created this great content, don’t waste it by failing to distribute it effectively. To begin, everything will of course go on your website and your blog, if you use a separate one. Make sure that everything is cross-linked between all your sites. Post all your videos on YouTube, and they can be cross-posted to your Facebook page too. The quantity and quality of your content will usually follow the Content Pyramid, with a lot of focus on simpler, quick material put out frequently. Top quality, longer material will be produced and distributed less often.
Choose the best location for each kind of material, and tailor your material for the various locations you are using. Small pieces of information and links work well on Twitter and Facebook. Images are ideal for Instagram and Pinterest.
Remember what the media guru Marshall McLuhan said – the medium is the message. What you post – your message – must match the place you post it – the medium.
Tips for Success
Now that we have looked at how to build your content marketing campaign, the following tips will make sure it is a success:
- Be consistent. Distribute at least one piece of content each day. If possible, aim for three pieces per day so that each site receives a steady flow of new material.
- Edit everything meticulously. Your goal should be never to put out even the smallest thing with an error in it.
- Keep up your research. Frequent research will identify new trends amongst your target audience. Since trends change with time, staying on top of things is important. Don’t get left behind.
- Write to engage and inform. Never write to sell – the hard sell will not work and your traffic will disappear.
- Re-purpose good content. Using content you have already written and distributed in new projects is a good way of expanding your overall content. For example, articles you have written for your blog or website are often re-usable as White Papers or eBook publications. Update them and if necessary change the tone a little. If your content is top quality, it can stand repetition – 70% of companies do this.
- Share blog content on social media multiple times. This allows you to put your content in front of readers in various time zones at optimal times for each zone. Sharing something two or three times throughout a day on various social networks is fine, but don’t do it too often as that can irritate readers.
- Use high quality images. Blurry, low-resolution images look amateurish. The images you use should be large, and of the highest possible quality.
Things to Avoid
To succeed with your content marketing campaign, avoid the following things:
- Copying competitors’ content. This is plagiarism, and can cause legal problems for you. It is fine to take an idea and significantly alter it in order to make it your own. It is not okay to copy word for word.
- Following your own taste. Focus on your audience. You should always consider what your target audience wants or likes and never what you personally like or want to do.
- Forgetting calls to action. These should be included in all of your content otherwise you cannot track its success, or get any final benefits from you content.
- Settling for poor quality. From using low quality or thumbnail images, to typos and poor writing, only the best will do for you.
- The hard sell. No one will read your content if all you ever do is pressure people to purchase your products or subscribe to your services. Instead, focus on providing useful information and gaining active engagement from your target audience. The sales will come naturally in their own time.
- Inconsistent posting. If you have a weekly blog, it must come out weekly, no matter what. Blogging or posting content only when you have free time is strictly for amateurs.
- Consistency is of the utmost importance. Without consistency, you will never gain momentum.
Your Top Priorities
It would be great to be able to do everything, and be content marketing on a daily basis. What should your top priorities be if you do not have time for that? If you have only five minutes each day to dedicate towards your content marketing campaign, we suggest you spend those five minutes like this:
Monday, Wednesday, Friday
Create a short bite of information to cross-post on Facebook and Twitter (estimated time: 2-3 minutes)
Spend those minutes writing a blog post. If you write for 2-3 minutes each day, you can compose one or two blog posts per week. (estimated time: 2-3 minutes)
Like and respond to as many comments as possible on your Facebook, Twitter, and blog account. (Estimated Time: 5 minutes)
Share an informative image on Instagram and/or Pinterest. If time allows, you can also post this image on Facebook and Twitter. (Estimated Time: 5 minutes)
Although these are the items to focus on if you have only five minutes a day, a much better solution if you are short of time is to outsource a few additional items. Your content marketing campaign is most relevant if it is steady and constant.
Getting Professional Assistance
Blog Posts & Articles
You may want to think about hiring someone to write your blog posts and articles for you. This not only frees up your own time, but greatly increases the amount of work you are able to put out. Remember that the more content you can share across your sites, the better it is for your company. Dedicating one person to this job means you can make one or two posts to both your blog and website each week. A professional writer and researcher will also provide you with the top quality and original material you need. Try to find a specialist in the field – it is worth the extra cost – because that person will have original ideas and will go beyond re-writing existing material.
Social media specialists are always an integral part of any content marketing campaign. They can handle the technicalities involved in social media. They know the best posting times, what types of posts are doing best right now, and how to actively engage with your followers. They are trained to know what to do and when to do it, and can easily handle all of your social media accounts for you.
If you aren’t a graphic designer then you probably need to hire one. To create images for Instagram and Pinterest, or visually appealing videos for YouTube, takes talent and training. Having a graphic designer helps you achieve optimal results and will improve views, engagement, and shares.
When Will I See Results?
If you are consistent in posting valuable, informational, and engaging content, you should begin seeing results quickly. An increased number of views, comments, and likes should start to appear within the first few weeks of launching your content marketing campaign. More likes and follows on your social media accounts should appear within a few months of launching your campaign.
Optimal results may take anywhere from six months to a year to achieve. These will include more views, comments, and likes on posts, as well as follows and likes on your social media accounts. You will also see an increase in sales, particularly repeat sales. These results will only grow even more as you continue to gain momentum with your content marketing campaign.
How to Measure Success
There are many simple ways to measure your success in a content marketing campaign. You can track your success by keeping track of your social media accounts, blog, website, and sales.
- Track your success by seeing how much engagement your posts are getting. Likes, shares, re-tweets, and comments you receive on each individual post are all good forms of engagement. An average of these numbers will show you how you are doing overall. Comparisons between each of your sites will show you where you are being most successful, and graphing them weekly will chart your overall success
- Track how many new likes and follows you receive on each account. This can help you to determine how well your content marketing campaign is extending your primary reach.
- Check your analytics to see how many page views, comments, and followers you have received. To do this, access your analytics page, or look at the top of your site’s dashboard.
- Check any subscriptions you may have on your blog or website to see how many new sign-ups you may have.
- Keep a close eye on your sales to see if they rise as your content marketing campaign gains momentum.
- Check your analytics to see where sales or views are coming from. This can help you to determine just how much your content marketing campaign has influenced your bottom line.
In this section of the course, we covered the following topics. Make sure you understand them all before moving on to the next section:
- What is content marketing?
- Why is content marketing important?
- Generating Leads with content marketing
- 7 Steps to building an effective content marketing strategy
- Define your goals know what you are doing and why
- Decide how to keep track – you need to be able to measure success
- Choose your keywords – get yourself to the top
- Decide on the type of content – word, images or video
- Create your content – only the best will do
- Distribute your content – connect with your audience
- Tips for success
- Things to avoid
- Your top priorities
- Getting professional assistance – why professional help pays for itself
- When will I see results?
- How to measure success
Content marketing is a viable, vital part of any business. When built properly and well executed, it has the potential to dramatically increase your reach, engagement, and ultimately your sales. With proper upkeep, this campaign will only continue to gain momentum. While results may not happen overnight, they are well worth the wait.